Sunday, February 26, 2017

Another Chance

When the day comes that we ever move out west, and if I ever wind up with a small patio or courtyard that wants some plants, I will need to learn a whole new world of horticulture for a different climate.

I've been reading about what grows at 7,000 feet in alkaline soil in the southwest, and much of it is new to me. So I was pleased when I kept coming across recommendations for a small flowering tree that is widely planted there, and . . .

      . . . it was an old favorite that I have grown and that I loved.

Cercis canadensis reniformis 'Oklahoma'
(synonymous with texensis)

In 2005, the year after we moved here, I planted an 'Oklahoma' redbud tree. It was one of the first plants I put in. It was spectacular.

Although Cercis canadensis is an "eastern" redbud, the reniformis subspecies (now called texensis) grows in the west and is noticeably different. Why I wanted a western plant when I first started planting trees in New England, I don't know. There were plenty of commonly available eastern redbuds in nurseries here, but I sent away to Forestfarm to get this specific western variety.

It was probably the description that hooked me so.
Texensis (reniformis) is native to Oklahoma and Texas, is shrubbier, more compact than the straight species. It differs from the straight species by having  
(1) slightly more drought tolerance 
(2) darker and brighter wine red buds and flowers 
(3) glossier, thicker, broader and darker green leaves, more reniform (kidney-shaped) 
(4) leaves that are rounded or blunt (not pointed)  
(5) winter hardiness to USDA Zone 6 (species to Zone 4). 
‘Oklahoma’ is even more compact and broad-rounded than Cercis canadensis var. texensis, typically maturing to 12-18’ tall. Its flowers are darker (rosy magenta to wine red) and its leaves are a richer green with more gloss and wax. 
    --- Missouri Botanical Garden plant profile

Mine absolutely showed these characteristics -- shiny leaves, deep color in bloom, a fast growing, densely leafy tree. In flower it lit up the side of the house and made the bedroom glow. After blooming, the thick glossy green leaves shaded the window and made a home for birds that we could watch from inside.

My 'Oklahoma' redbud did so much better than any of the others I planted. I have poor experience with redbuds. I planted a 'Silver Cloud' variegated one that never survived its first winter.

A species redbud planted on the back hill disappeared from unknown causes years ago.

My first attempt at planting the purple leaved 'Forest Pansy' resulted in decapitation and death one winter. My second attempt at 'Forest Pansy' is still standing, but grows smaller each year with winterkill. It's never flowered much.

But oh, the western redbud at the side of the house -- what a beautiful tree it was. I never did get a good photo of it in leaf in summer. Mostly I was captivated by the intensity and profusion of flowers, and so my photos were all taken in early spring.

But it was such a pretty shape, and getting to be a good size. The best I can show you is this terribly out of focus shot, which is an awful picture, but it does at least give an idea of the form of this western redbud.

I wish I had taken better photos of it in all seasons. Because I lost it in 2011.

A freak heavy snowstorm in late October that year weighed down the big heart shaped leaves, which were all still on the tree at that time of year. The weight split the tree in two and it was gone. I miss it.

But who knows, I may have another chance to grow an 'Oklahoma' redbud, in another climate better suited to it. If I do ever get that second chance, it will be like having an old friend with me in a new place.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Warm Interlude

Yesterday was in the 60s, warmer than L.A. and a welcome treat in mid winter.

Snowdrops are blooming at the front of the house, so sweet. I wish I could show pictures of them. But this is a post with no photos because my camera was stolen and I can't figure out how to properly use Jim's.

A replacement camera is on its way, same make and model, courtesy of homeowner's insurance. Until then, imagine pretty white snowdrops and brown muddy mulch and warm sunshiny light.

I was tempted to do garden clean up in the nice weather, but my tools are in the potting bench on the north side of the house, and even 60 degree temperatures can't melt the snow in the deep shade on that side. The patio is covered, and where I shoveled out a bit of access it iced up and was treacherous.

Even so I managed to get at the pruners and did some artistic lopping of the rose at the front door. The woody canes needed some taming.

It felt good to be doing chores outside in the unexpectedly pleasant air.

Oh, and the 'Diane' witch hazel is flowering in this warm interlude. Blooms are copper, not red as it was advertised to be, and the flowers are oddly tinier than what I've seen for this cultivar elsewhere, but it's blooming and the fragrance is delicate and spicy. I'm just no longer sure this is actually 'Diane'.

No matter. I cut branches and brought them in the house and when I walk by at certain times I catch such a sweet, lovely scent. Very nice.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A House with Gardens

It is tough to sell a house with gardens. That's the opposite of what you'd think -- a home surrounded by beauty is so attractive and people who visit are so impressed with the shade and color and privacy and places to rest and views to see.

But they don't want to buy it.

That's a reality I have to face. All my effort to turn a bare lot into something lovely in every season lowers the selling price.

"Oh, but just the right buyer will want the amazing spaces you have created here. Someone else who gardens will value this highly and want it". Well, I hope so.

But a true gardener doesn't want someone else's vision. They'll want acreage and good soil and a nice location to create their own gardens.

And non-gardeners don't want the work. Particularly in this location. We abut another neighborhood of similar homes that is a condo association. The homes are freestanding but homeowners don't plow in winter or mow in summer. The outside is completely maintained in their fees.

The homes on my street look exactly the same and in fact were built by the same builder at the same time, but we maintain our own yards. Jim mows and I garden, but our immediate neighbors hire all their yard maintenance out. Most homes around us have basic shrubbery and a back patio and the phone number of a landscape maintenance company.

Home buyers who like gardens are looking in the more outlying suburbs or rural towns. Buyers looking in this area for our kind of home are condo shoppers who want the association to do all the yard work. Or they'll end up hiring it out as our neighbors do.

When we bought here 13 years ago, that's exactly what we were looking for. And then I retired and I discovered we had a blank lot and I got a book at the library on horticulture, and never looked back. Jim bought a John Deere tractor mower and started mowing the lawn and he was hooked as well.

New buyers will want the benefits we originally wanted too when we moved here. Realtors will advise us to lower our price to attract someone who will accept the evident maintenance issues if the deal is good enough.

Only if the deal is good enough.

It's so counterintuitive -- it feels like we should add a premium and advertise the beautiful surroundings, but the real estate articles I have read extensively say gardens add no value, and realtors in this area actually advise discounting the price to get clients to even look at the place.

I need to overcome resentment about needing to lower our price to attract buyers to a place that is leagues above the rest of the neighborhood in aesthetics. I need to remember that for 13 years this place has given me such joy. I can't put a price on that, and I'll accept that I've actually paid for the experience, both in outlays over the years to create my gardens and in a hit to the value of our real estate.

I can live with that.

Do you know anyone who wants to buy a house with a half acre of borders, trees and shrubs?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Just Shrubbery

I am going to help my son plant his new yard in Denver in April. I already ordered three free and two low cost saplings from the city's urban forestry program for him. He'll get two bur oaks for eventual tall shade along the sidewalk, a honeylocust for his fenced back yard, a linden to screen the view of the apartments on one side, and a flowering pear for a corner.

In addition, he has a long fence line that needs some plants along it to soften the stockade look. He also has a bedroom window in direct line with a bright streetlight that needs something to block the light all night long.

So I have to come up with some shrubbery selections that will solve those design challenges. And I need to find a place in Denver where we can buy shrubs.

Okay, this turned out to be an eye opener.

I googled nurseries and greenhouses and garden centers and plant stores in the Denver metro area where we might shop when I am out there in the spring, and I got . . .
    . . . every kind of marijauna product we could ever need.

Seeds, plants, starts, containers, lights, grow resources, grow instructions, soil amendments for pot culture, heat mats, and on and on.

Some urban garden centers also had a small side business in annuals and houseplants. Some sold floral arrangements along with pot plants. But no ornamental shrubs.

Home Depot and Lowe's in the city are probably places we can find basic landscape plants. We'll go there to start.

But where to find a real selection of woody plants for my "vision" of his landscape? A tall narrow juniper for height, or dwarf Chinese junipers, or an upright lilac maybe, or Rose of Sharon? Can we even buy some of my favorite low care, minimal water standbys like comptonia and caryopteris and low growing fragrant sumac? Dwarf deutzia? Amsonias?

I asked a blogger who gardens in Denver and he suggested Harlequin's Gardens up in Boulder. I also have been to a nice nursery in Ft. Collins when I was visiting one time and on a mission to find the Colorado clematis vine 'Kintzley's Ghost'. But no good sources in Denver, though.

I should probably contact the Denver Botanic Garden for suggestions on where to get shrubs. I'll do that this winter.

It looks like my son and I will spend a spring weekend in Colorado driving all over the state to find plants for an urban lot. Not pot plants, not "grow supplies", not marijuana paraphernalia, just shrubbery.

It's going to be fun!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Living in Cement

It snows in New Mexico and it gets cold, but dry air and intense sun at high altitude dispatch it pretty quickly. They have flat roofs out there, which tells you something about expected snow loads.

Snow may last in a layer on the cold ground during winter, or in patches, but it doesn't accumulate in ginormous mountains of heavy frozen pack. Certainly not like it does here.

This is dense wet snow, too heavy for a man with a very bad back to be shoveling. But the snowblower died, and he won't pay our snowplow guy to come back again and do this walkway.

Our solar panels are completely covered and we are drawing from the grid now, not producing our own power. Which happens in this climate and has been factored into our electric savings and we still pay nothing for electricity all year, since months when we produce excess offset this situation. But still, I really hate to see this.

There may or may not be mail delivery today. I tried to shovel out an arc below the mailbox so the truck could sidle up close enough, but the snow was too sodden and I couldn't do it. At least the man with the bad back didn't try. So what if our bills are late.

I've lived in this climate all my life, I like winter, sometimes more in theory than in reality, but I'm getting ready for a climate where we won't have to deal with living under a layer of white cement when it snows.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Blizzard and Taxes

It snowed and it blew. All day. Taxes got done. A blizzard raged. Pea soup for lunch.

It's cold and deep and white and wintry. It's stopping, but the wind is still swirling sheets of fine sugar crystals around, rearranging the drifts, mostly putting the snow back in the driveway where it got plowed off an hour ago. The snow wants to be there so that's where it goes.

It's clinging to surfaces, piled up on the needles of the spruces. With the fitful wind, I worry that the heavy loaded branches will break off in a gust. Something to fret about.

But taxes are done.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Impressions Before and After our Trip

Here are my impressions:

Space, Amenities and Location
Before we went to Santa Fe, I imagined we might live in a small (1,200 sq. ft. to 1,400 sq. ft.) casa or condo in the city, with a walled shady patio for a lot, walkability to the center, and authentic touches -- kiva fireplace, viga beams, Talavera tile. No garage necessary, but off street parking would be nice.

After touring many different properties, I know we need more space. And a garage. And more of a living neighborhood outside the city.

The small condos we saw were really cute but way too small. It snowed, an icy windshield-covering snow that had to be scraped, and now we know we need a garage in Santa Fe, as well as more room than I had first thought.

Cute, quirky, small and central. But not a good choice for full time living.

The in-city properties were beautifully decorated, but urban zoning was mixed, so some nice places we saw were next door to less attractive places. Some were awkwardly laid out, one casita we saw shared a laundry with the unit next door.

The cutest and most upscale of the urban casitas in our price range were mostly places that investors buy for tourist rentals. Adorable, just what I wanted, but we would not be in a neighborhood. We'd be surrounded by short term renters, vacationers, and lots of turnover.

Conclusion: We need to focus our search on larger places outside the central city, beyond the tourist areas. Walkability to the center is not going to work.

Air BnB Home
Before we visited, I thought the Air BnB home we booked was the perfect home for us, and it was for sale.

After staying there, I know it isn't for us.

Loved the Air BnB we stayed at,
but there were issues.
The size (1,600 sq. ft.) was perfect, the location was central and right off an urban walking trail, the gardens were tiny and lovely, the decor was fun, but there were problems. Doors and windows all needed replacing, the floors were canted to either side of a central ridge (structural problem?) and some of the rehabbed finishes were a problem (the fancy upgraded master bath was awkward).

And the neighborhood was too gritty -- several homes on the street had been done over, but were close in with other distressed and ugly properties. The street had kind of a college housing vibe.

And the price was too high for the issues that came with it.

I did fall in love with the patios and portal and landscaping, but even then, the porch tiles were loose, the landscaping was mainly non-native wisteria, roses and lilacs, even a patch of grass, which seems like a garden back east, and not very New Mexican.

Conclusion: this house was utterly charming, walkable to so much, and really cozy, but we won't be buying it.

Style of Home
Before we toured neighborhoods, I knew I did not want to duplicate what we have now: a newer home in a planned development in the suburbs. I wanted that old authentic adobe looking house, either a town house or a ranch.

After seeing a range of homes, it's clear we are most comfortable duplicating what we have now after all. We really liked the homes in a development about 6 miles out of town -- not far, but not in the city.

We like the cluster housing, with a consistent look and feel, and close neighbors, but walled private gardens and open walking trails in the common landscape all around. Not authentic or old style, but at least the architecture hews to the stucco and flat roof aesthetic. But new, in a homeowners association.

Newer finishes, high ceilings, planned development, outside the city.
Everything I thought I didn't want, but we really liked it.

I thought I'd like the Stamm homes that are a feature of mid century building in Santa Fe. They are low stucco ranches with nice touches (hardwood floors, kiva fireplaces, small footprints). Many have been rehabbed with upscale decor and I just loved the small, iconic looking homes.

Stamm homes are very distinctive, with a real 1950s look and feel.

But after seeing them in real life, it's clear that even with enough square footage, the layouts are just too cramped. And the neighborhoods don't look the way I thought, although the pictures show such cute exteriors. To me a street of Stamm homes looks like 1950s bomb shelter housing, even with upgrades and nice landscaping. The style just didn't suit me the way I thought it would. It's almost too frozen in time, evoking the 1950s too literally.

Conclusion: Stamm-built homes are off our search list. Newer homes with nice finishes in the suburbs are on the search list.

We got a good feel for the distinct areas of the city and the flavor of each. The realtor spent all day with us, from 10 in the morning until 5:30 in the afternoon showing us 10 properties in very different locations. The next day we went to look at rentals, but the townhouse we had an appointment to see inside had just been leased. 

This rental looks nice, but it was up a tiny, steep gravel drive,
and the complex was a little too tightly clustered.
(it wasn't green and leafy, this is the realtor's photo from summer)

When we scoped out the neighborhood the rental was in, the building was nice looking, but the streets in that area were narrow and steep and very tight, and that seemed problematic. We'll continue to look at rentals, though.

We looked at condos in a planned development up in the hills above the city. Although it felt remote from town, and the sprawling layout of the landscape seemed less welcoming than the neighborhoods closer to town, it was really just a 10 minute drive into the city.

I could live in a place with mountain views.

General Impressions
Every single home in Santa Fe is stucco -- the cost to repair and refresh it, which needs doing every 20 or so years, is thousands of dollars, and I quickly learned to spot which properties looked good but needed expensive stucco work.

This one needs some stucco work, and it's not cheap.

Every home in Santa Fe has a walled garden in back, and some have walled courtyards in front as well. The garden clubs sponsor "Behind Adobe Walls" garden tours in summer. I'm looking forward to that. No one keeps a lawn.

The city has trees, tall shady trees that give the place a graceful feel. Homes feature ornamental fruit trees -- apparently apricots, peaches and apples grow well under cultivation in small courtyard gardens. Outside town there is scrub landscape, with piƱon pines that grow to only four or five feet. They dot the hills all over with a rich deep green against the new snow. It's strikingly pretty.

Courtyard entry in the front.
As this realtor pic shows, fruit trees and flowering trees are popular.

And beyond the green pine scrub, Santa Fe is surrounded by mountains. Before we visited, I thought I had to find a home with a view out the window of mountains, but after spending time in many neighborhoods there, I see that everywhere you drive or walk in the city has killer views. 

You don't need to pay for an adobe compound perched on a hillside with picture windows looking out at mountain ranges -- anywhere we have a house we will be able to walk outside, or drive down the street and see incredible mountain views.

And sunsets.

source: Jack Arnold photo